The Birds are Singing in the Sandia Foothills

A curve-billed Thrasher flew in and landed on a wall next to the parking area at the end of Copper as fifteen Thursday Birders gathered to begin our walk in the open space. It was the first of many we would see during our two-hour walk.

The morning was cold and overcast, with a brisk breeze. However, the foothills were bursting with the first signs of spring. Yellow nodules were forming on the cholla, new shoots of green were emerging at the bases of dried weed stalks, and silvery-green leaves were starting to appear on the chamisa.

“I hear a quail,” Rebecca signaled. Just then a Gambel’s Quail flew into a four-wing saltbush nearby.

A couple of White-crowned Sparrows shared the upper edges of the bush.

A Desert Cottontail scampered between the cacti.

The trail headed north behind the houses that abutted the open space and was a virtual ‘forest’ of cholla cacti, which were alive with bird song and activity.

We could hear a Cactus Wren calling. Its harsh chug-chug-chug was coming from somewhere in the stand of cacti. Pretty soon it popped up and perched on the top of a cholla while it continued to call. And then it was down. It kept hopping up, singing, and then flying down – over and over. Everyone got good looks.

A Scrub Jay flew in and landed in the top of a tree in a neighboring yard. Shek-shek-shek it yelled as it flew off.

Singing Curve-billed Thrasher

Singing Curve-billed Thrasher

More Curve-billed Thrashers buzzed around the chollas. When they perched, they would sing their gurgling spring song.

The area seemed to be a gathering place for House Finches who were attracted to the thistle feeders hanging in the yard of one of the houses bordering the open space.

A Say’s Phoebe caught our attention when it landed on the stem of a dried weed.

Black-throated Sparrow

Black-throated Sparrow

“There are two Black-throated Sparrows,” I motioned. They were singing their trills from below a four-winged salt bush. Then they flew over on the other side of the trail and began scrounging underneath another bush.

“They are so cute,” trip leader, Roger commented.

We left the area bordering the houses and headed around the “U mound,” where we were protected somewhat from the breeze. Rebecca heard a Rufous-crowned Sparrow calling, but could never locate it.

As we rounded the curve, a motley mule deer was moseying up the ridge. A Merlin flew above the horizon.

Western Bluebird

Western Bluebird

Two Western Bluebirds flew in and perched on the top of a juniper. “The male was effulgent (shining radiantly),” exclaimed Larry, and then explained the meaning of the adjective he had used.

A bird sailed in nearby. “A Townsend’s Solitaire,” Roger identified. It was close enough that we could see its eye ring.

Annie spotted a Mountain Lion sitting on a rock, and in the same area Rebecca noticed a coyote wandering up a nearby trail.

We circled back south. As we headed down the trail, we stopped to watch a falcon in the distance.

“What do you think it is?” Rebecca asked Hilary, a Hawk Watch employee.

“From its wing beats, at first I thought it was a Merlin,” she responded. “However, because of its size, there is a strong possibility that it was a Peregrine. It is really too far away to see details.”

As we reached the base of the trail, we stopped to watch a Red-tailed Hawk circling and to admire some tiny fuchsia flowers n a low-growing plant – our first of season wildflowers.

Canyon Towhee

Canyon Towhee

While we had seen a number of Canyon Towhees during our walk, we were treated to a close-up view when one landed nearby the exit of the trailhead.

As we went over the list of sightings, we were delighted that we had seen 20 species of birds and four different mammals.

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